Overview of the projects

The leading research question we pursue is: How does morphology develop in different genealogical and geographical contexts and to what extent is this development affected by language contact? We approach this question by comparing three different geographical areas and language families, corresponding to three regional sub-projects:

  1. Celtic/Romance (with case studies on Insular Celtic and Romance)
  2. Sino-Tibetan and its neighbors
  3. South America (Tupian, Quechuan, Cariban)

This choice is motivated as follows: First, these families and areas represent a wide range of morphological diversity, from isolating to (poly-)synthetic and from concatenative to different kinds of nonlinear structures. Second, the areas are not connected, so that they present three independent studies, allowing for the isolation of more general tendencies in human language, which are expected to show up across all areas. Finally, the universities of Zürich and Bern have a strong presence of specialists in these fields, a crucial requirement for understanding areal and genealogical effects beyond superficial claims.

The methodological challenge is to adequately model contact-induced patterns of change, informed by what is known about geography and history. This challenge is taken up by a fourth sub-project, dedicated to methods. The European data set (which is much richer in detail) will serve as a test-bed case study, in which methods are developed and tested; the Asian and American areas serves as application case studies. The methods subproject will closely collaborate with the GIScience Laboratory of the University of Zurich Research Priority Program (URPP) “Language and Space”